You may not have heard of the Bowers & Wilkins PX hedphones. B&W may not be a household name like Sony or Samsung, but the British company has been quietly - that’s entirely the wrong word - making speakers on the south coast of England since 1966, and you only have to look up the Nautilus speakers - $60,000 a pair - to understand that the company might know a thing or two about sound.
The PX headphones are much, much more conventional, and thankfully much cheaper, and are the best headphones you can buy in 2020. Instead of placing a mollusc on either side of your head like a modern Salvador Dali, instead there are two earcups with a ballistic nylon covering. To get the best out of the PX headphones, you’re going to need a source that supports aptX HD, which despite being a lossy codec sometimes gets called aptX Lossless. It supports high-definition audio, and is a convenient solution for better-than-CD quality sound on the move. Support first appeared in cellphones back in 2016, with the LG G5, but some big names - such as Apple iPhone 11 and Samsung Galaxy S20 and Note products - don’t use it. Android flagships such as OnePlus phones, Google’s Pixel devices, and recent Huawei, Motorola, and Sony cellphones are where you need to go to get portable aptX HD outside of a dedicated high-res music player. There’s a supplied 3.5mm cable if you’d rather use that.
Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless headphones review: Design
Understated in their looks, the B&W PX headphones don’t stand out from the crowd, at least in their most common black and gray incarnation. There’s a ‘soft gold’ version that replaces the grays with gold on the arms and outside of the earcups, and while this added bling may be welcomed by some, it feels a little unnecessary. Advertise that you’re enjoying premium sound quality and near-perfect noise-cancelling by all means, but the calmness of the gray-and-black finish seems more appropriate to us.
External earcup padding has been reduced compared to earlier entries in B&W’s headphone range, and combined with the tightness of the headband this may give owners of larger heads a bit of trouble, especially during longer sessions such as international flights or unimportant business meetings. The lack of padding does help keep your ears cool, but isn’t 100% inductive to long-term comfort. It’s not much of a problem - there’s enough give in the arms and headband - but it’s something to consider if you can’t try them on before buying. It also means that the headphones feel reassuringly solid, despite the lightweight aluminum and plastic build.
Cables run through recessed channels, the earcups rotate smoothly and the B&W logos have a texture to them that marks them out on the outside of the earcups. These sort of details in presentation mark the PXs out as being quality headphones. There are three buttons to control volume and play/pause (which has a hump so you can find it easily), and a slider to initiate Bluetooth pairing. Charging is via a USB-C port, and a proximity sensor automatically pauses your music if you lift one or both earcups off your head. Leave them off, and the headphones will go into power-saving mode after a couple of minutes. Put them back on again, and playback will continue - it’s a seamless operation.
Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless headphones review: Performance
Regular price: $229
Type: Over-ear wireless headphones
Weight: 0.73 lbs
Headphones live or die on their sound quality, and the B&W PXs don’t disappoint. The 40mm full-range drivers at work in the earcups are based on those found in B&W’s much more expensive P9 Signature headphones. They’re angled, so follow the natural shape of your ears, and give a good stereo image. Sound is crisp and clear, only muddying around the edges of the lowest and highest notes. They won’t do anything to rescue a low-quality recording or poorly encoded file, but feed it a good quality source and you’ll have no trouble picking out individual elements in the mix.
To control noise cancelling and equalisation you’ll need the Bowers & Wilkins Headphones app, which for some reason requires access to your location. Noise cancelling comes in three flavours: Office, City, and Flight. Of these, Flight is the strongest, removing the roar of jet engines from your listening experience, and relying on the auto-pause when you lift one earcup to understand the flight attendant when she offers you another little bottle of red wine. City gives you some situational awareness, enough to cross the road safely but probably not hold a conversation with a police officer, while Office cuts the drone of printers but allows you to hear who’s turn it is to make coffee.
There’s no automatic switching, despite the app keeping an eye on your location, but overall the noise-cancelling is effective and its presence boosts an already excellent pair of headphones.
Bowers & Wilkins PX wireless headphones review: Value
It’s quite easy to spend $500+ on a pair of good quality headphones, but you don’t need to. The PXs, Sony’s WH-1000XM3s, and the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 all exist within $100 of each other. To our ears, the B&W are the pick of the bunch, both in terms of sound quality and features, but if you can, try all three. Each has small differences, but at the time of writing we feel the best quality, and the lowest price, goes to B&W even though the PXs lose out on features such as built-in digital assistants.
Should you buy the Bowers & Wilkins PX?
Anyone in the market for a pair of headphones at this level has a lot of choice. Every feature manufacturers are currently baking into their ‘phones, be it Bluetooth, noise-cancelling, Alexa, or hugely configurable equilization settings, must come second to sound quality. The PXs comfortably come out on top there, and with convenient wirelessness, noise-cancellation that can swamp an airplane, plus solid build quality, we have no problem with crowning these the best overall headphones you can buy right now. Should you buy? Yes.